Mike Hughes talks apprentices, spark, ambition and capital letters with Paddy Sturman of Gordons law firm.
Paddy Sturman makes me think the ‘M’ in SME could almost be the capital letter of Yorkshire. Thousands of firms across the region are classed as SMEs, with so many in the Medium category as they establish themselves and look to people like Paddy’s firm, Gordons, to grow.
Yet I would wager almost all of them aspire to break away from that heading and just be a ‘firm’. SMEs have a limit, and Paddy is well aware that these firms don’t want any limits. They know where they are now – we all have to start somewhere – but they’re from Yorkshire, so they want more.
“The market is changing in favour of the regional operations. There are increasing opportunities throughout Yorkshire for firms like ours to grow and get better quality work,” says Paddy, whose pedigree is pretty much spot-on: A Sheffield lad, educated at the local comp, then in Harrogate and now living in North Yorkshire.
“The simple truth is that we are always here with an office full of local knowledge. The bigger firms inevitably get dragged away a lot more than we do and we also have the capacity for good team selection, so the banks that deal with us get the same people working with them.”
You don’t have to be too quick off the mark to realise that one of Paddy’s specialties, Real Estate, is thriving at the moment. There must be a limit to how many cranes you can fit into one small area, but cities like Leeds are certainly pushing the boundaries to keep pace with the demand.
Paddy says: “Banks were struggling to lend money for property development during the recession, for obvious reasons, but there is a lot more of that happening now and also there are assets that are finally capable of refinancing to lift things out of the doldrums.
“To keep on top of the market, we make sure we have the right skills in place for any situation. We have an apprenticeship scheme which looks at A-level leavers and bright fresh young people. If you have the right people with core skills it is a matter of keeping alive to where the market is going.
“We make a point of going around schools and making young people aware of the scheme. There is obviously a rigorous interview process, but as well as the right intellect we are looking for that spark and ambition.
“I think if you get a student who says at 18 ‘I want to roll my sleeves up and join a firm’, then they are obviously not work-shy individuals. By wanting to take that step they tick all the boxes.”
The whole region seems to be rolling its sleeves up at the moment, so Paddy’s office might be particularly busy for a while yet. But I don’t think he’ll mind that. Remember, he’s from Sheffield, so he knows a bit about hard work.